I just heard Maurice Sendak interviewed on Fresh Air (the occasion being a celebration of his 80th birthday); everything he said was interesting, but one thing that particularly got my attention was a poem he was talking about. I had missed the lead-in, so I assumed it was a contemporary riff on the nursery-rhyme form, because it sounded so strange and morbid:

We are all in the dumps
For diamonds are trumps
The kittens have gone to St. Paul’s!
The baby is bit
The moon’s in a fit
And the houses are built
Without walls.

But no, it turns out it’s a genuine nursery rhyme (I’m sure some of my readers are shaking their heads and saying “What, you don’t know it?!”), and Sendak combined it with an equally strange one (“Jack and Guy/ Went out in the rye/ And they found a little boy/ With one black eye…”) to produce what is apparently his least popular book, We’re All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, described (with an illustration) in this post by Max Sparber, who makes it sound so strange and nightmarish I really want to see the whole thing.


  1. Since when weren’t nursery rhymes strange and morbid?

  2. By a considerable stretch of their imaginations, some commentators have seen in this jingle a commemoration of the visit of Elizabeth I to London on November 24, 1588, to give thanks at St. Paul’s for her nation’s deliverance from the Spanish Armada.

    The annotated Mother Goose.

  3. “Jack and Guy/ Went out in the rye/ And they found a little boy/ With one black eye…”

    I need to consort with a better class of people …
    My immediate thought was that this was some slash-fan’s take on “Jack and Jill” with a bit of added MPreg.
    My apologies for sharing.

  4. Why are both rhymes written with so little respect for the rhythm and rhyming scheme? I think that the last two lines of We are all in the dumps should be:
    And the houses are built wihout walls
    in parallel to
    The kittens have gone to St Paul’s.
    The other poem also seems to be misaligned:
    Come says Jack let’s knock him
    On the head
    No says guy
    Let’s buy him a loaf a bread
    instead of
    Come says Jack
    Let’s knock him on the head
    No says Guy
    Let’s buy him a loaf of bread

  5. I blame teh intertubes. Both rhymes are formatted the way marie-lucie suggests in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes.

  6. Yeah, what MMcM said. If I hadn’t been frazzled at the end of the day I’d probably have reformatted them as you suggest.

  7. At least in the modern version, “all in the dumps” would have to date no earlier than the introduction of the forerunners of bridge, because of “diamonds are trumps”, and I’m fairly certain that didn’t occur until the late 17th century. It might be describing the events that led up to the Glorious Revolution–the kittens would be the Seven Bishops, the baby the Old Pretender aka the “bedpan baby”–although I’d have to consult the books to come up with a complete list of references.
    Of course, if “diamonds are trumps” is a reworking of an older line, then all bets are off. If was about Elizabeth after the Armada, then presumably a Papist came up with the rhyme.

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